Last year when I was in Krakow, Poland, and sketching with the local Urban Sketcher group, I met Roman Szmal who was developing his own line of watercolour paints. He had been working with local artist Agata Kwiatkowska and gave me the second set he had ever made up. After exchanging business cards he headed off and we continued sketching. A little while later I had a call from him “I’ve been looking at your site and would like to make up my versions of your palette and give to you tomorrow.” Wow! that was very special.
I had a play with the paints on the plane and was very impressed. At the time these paints were still under development and so I kept them to myself.
When I got home from my European travel I put together this palette which I have been using at home off and on. But hadn’t done any serious testing.
Around December this year the paints were released under the name of Aquarius. You might have seen Jane Blundell’s video of opening the pans. They are beautifully wrapped with colour wrappings of hand painted swatches on watercolour paper. Wow!
A few days ago, a very belated Xmas gift arrived from Roman Szmal (slow Polish postal service?) It was a beautiful timber box containing 36 of the Aquarius range created for a watercolour event in Poland last year.
And so I have been playing a little more with them. How can anyone resist a yummy box of paints like this? It’s so gorgeous!
I haven’t had time to do what I consider ‘serious testing’ but so far I have been very impressed.
I know from chatting with Roman that he wants the Aquarius paints to be known as very soft, easy re-wetable pans containing mostly single pigment and mostly transparent or semi-transparent paint.
And I can confirm that these pans are lovely to work with – soft and creamy and it’s really easy to pick up paint. Some of the pans are very soft, so I would like to use them inside my everyday palette for a while before I can tell if they are ‘too soft’ and messy.
The paints are nearly 100% handmade and high quality – “I’m buying pigments only from well respected suppliers.” According to the colour chart the full range is lightfast achieving 7 to 8 in Blue Wool Scale.
I love the idea behind the pans being wrapped in watercolour paper with original paint on it. You can see exactly what the paint is like so there is no need to do a colour chart – though some of us love doing them, don’t we? All the pans I have received to date have been prototypes without the watercolour wrapping so I’ve not had the pleasure of handling the final product… yet!
Aquarius uses some unusual pigments and mixes. I don’t have the full range, but you can see it here in Jane Blundell’s amazing article with all samples of them all. The full Aquarius collection of 140 colours includes 34 earth tones with natural pigments and I’ve been poring over the colour chart looking at all these interesting options.
So many new paints is a little overwhelming so I asked Roman to share some of the interesting colours in the range and this is his list.
Two colours that I don’t have:
401 – Przybysz’s Grey
Perfect for shadows (a little like Daniel Smith Moonglow)
344 – Ocean Blue
A turquoise/blue paint with white/yellow shade on the edge, perfect for painting waves with foam on the top of water.
You can see these paints in Jane’s brushouts
But the rest I have been playing with a little:
336 – Shadow Violet
A mixture of three pigments: Cobalt Green PG50, Ultramarine Blue PB29, Quinacridone Violet PV19. It has very similar properties to Przybysz’s Grey but a bit brighter with a subtle violet hue. I like the look of Shadow Violet a lot and the separation of pigments is impressive – lots of green appearing as the washes dry.
334 – Mineral Violet
Ultramarine PB29 and red-rose Quinacridone Violet PV19 producing heavy granulation and separation. Gorgeous colour and if I had a purple in my palette this would be it!
239 – Caput Mortuum
A natural dark-brown-red with violet undertone. As this is a natural mineral, this paint granulates beautifully and separates into different colours (specks of brown, red etc.) It’s another amazing colour and I’m wondering when I will use it.
131 – Van Dyke Brown
Most VBD’s contain black (eg WN ) but like the DS version this is just earth brown pigment. It’s a gorgeous cool dark brown (one I can’t live without) and I think the Aquarius version granulates a little more than the DS.
346 – Aquarius Green
A beautiful mixed green (a little like DS Undersea Green) but darker. Lots of wonderful separation.
The most exciting discovery I have made in my preliminary play mode is mixing French Ultramarine with Italian Burnt Sienna. It separates beautifully with a gorgeous golden glow. This is exactly what I want from a grey and it’s why I mix up my crazy Steel’s Grey.
Wow, wow, wow! I’m so in love with this combination! (Seriously, this is massive excitement level for me.)
In summary, I’m very impressed with the samples which I have received of the Aquarius range. I haven’t done extensive tests, but I am itching to mix some more colours and see how they perform in my normal sketching.
I’ve noticed a few things such as:
– some interesting pre-mixed olive greens,
– a version of Monte Amiata Natural Sienna,
– no Potters Pink (but there is Ultramarine Pink which might be an alternative),
– a Cobalt Blue which is semi-opaque rather than the usual transparent
– an interesting earth orange/red called Mummy Transparent Red using PR 102 (as opposed to the usual PR101).
Hmm, this range is a serious distraction for me at the moment!
I think it’s really exciting to meet someone who is creating a quality handmade product and I’m looking forward to seeing how these paints are received as they become more available. And just for the record, I have been given these paints to test independently and I’m not an affiliate for them. I love exploring different brands and then handpick the paints which suit me best. I expect that some Aquarius paints will make it into my everyday palette down the track. But right at the moment I don’t have the time to do the required testing.
At the moment these paints (full pans only) are available in a few places in Europe and are very affordable. The most accessible is the Artemiranda site which ships worldwide and Roman Szmal Art has a Facebook page here.
I will definitely keep you posted with more news and thoughts about this new range of watercolour.
I’m so excited because I just received the 36 pan Aquarius wooden box set from Roman Szmal which you have reviewed. They are impossible to get in the U.S. and I could not order them online with the ordering set up, so Roman arranged it himself. They are wonderful! I love the softer pans of watercolor, and the colors are beautifully transparent and glaze really nicely. Have not done any major painting or sketching with them yet – just playing right now. Thank you for making me aware of these wonderful paints!
Enjoy Marilyn – I have been using them a lot during this trip and love them a lot
What a wonderful review and beautiful pictures! I couldn’t help but notice that the yellows and some oranges, red and blues had little dots on the top of the pans. Are they pigment particles or air bubbles? I’m thinking about ordering some, but am still at the stage of picking my colors. I’m down to 54 from 68. Trying to go down to 40, but it’s difficult because I want to keep the less-traditional yellow, orange and red pigments
Audrey – there are just splashes from my loose watery painting 🙂
Thank you! I thought that the dots, for example on the 2nd, 4th and 5th yellows on the top row in the storage palette were either particles of coarser ground pigment or bubbles.
Why in the world are these paints impossible to get in the US? I don’t understand that in this age of ordering things from around the world… 🙁
They are a very small company in Poland and still trying to work out the best way to make paints available in the US. These things take time sadly. Can buy from a website in Spain.
I see these paints are available at a very reasonable price from Jackson’s Art, which is based in the UK but has inexpensive shipping options to the US if your package weight and dimensions are small (e.g., small tubes of paint, brushes, etc; shipping can get prohibitively expensive if ordering, say, large sheets of paper). For example, right now I have ten full pans in my cart on their website. The item total is $41.14 and the shipping quote to southern California is:
International Post – 7 to 15 days $1.84
International Tracked Post – 6 to 14 days $5.09
DHL Express Worldwide – 2 to 4 days $20.39
About to order some myself. : D
Hi Brandon, I knew that Roman Smzal was trying to get Jacksons to stock them. So I will check that out. THanks for letting me know!
Estas acuarelas se venden en brelavia? Donde?
Thank you for the wonderful review. I am interested in ordering these paints, and it is helpful to find good reviews. Do you mind sharing what the brush is that is pictured in your review? It looks like a sword shaped brush, is it sable? What brand? Thanks!
It’s a rosemary 772 half inch. Check out my brushes section under sketching tools
I’d like to take your watercolor class and I need to get some paints to replace my Cotman set which is almost out. Can you tell me which Aquarius colors match the recommended palette for your watercolor class? I’m a beginner in watercolor but i used to paint acrylic and oil.
Also can you recommend a palette to put the full pans in? My Cotman is half pans so I need to get an empty palette. I like yours but I’m not sure where to find it in Europe.
I haven’t tested enough Aquarius to be able to give you a definitive answer straight away. So it will be based on looking at a colour chart and not tested by use.
If you send us an email [email protected] it will be easiest for me to reply in a few days time.
I got my metal tin in Europe – it’s by Schmincke.
also you don’t have to have the same colours as me to do the course. The course is all about finding your own preferences. Have you done the free intro lessons? Sign up for them at the bottom of the page.
I just finished the intro lessons this afternoon. I think I will sign up for watercolor since I’ll have extra time during the lockdown. I’m also in buildings but I put it on hold when I went on vacation and then after I got back we had the lockdown. I might just finish it with reference photos. 🙂
I will pick out some Aquarius colors that look similar and give them a try.
I have been using White Nights/St. Petersburg watercolours for some time and have been very well pleased with them. But in view of the current news from Ukraine I feel morally obliged not to buy anything more from Russia (and the credit card payments probably won’t go through anyway). That’s not fair–the watercolour manufacturers had nothing to do with the war, but there you are. I decided to take the leap into Aquarius colours, figured out a palette that should be pretty close to my White Nights palette, and ordered them today.
Shipping from Artemiranda was rather dear, but VERY fast (45 hours to California). Jackson’s very reasonable shipping cost but slower (11 days). I just swatched the colors I ordered, and have a fair match for my White Nights colors. I ordered a pan of caput mortuum out of curiosity and it is a remarkable color. It is allegedly the same pigment as red ochre, but they sure don’t look the same! I can’t figure out what I would use it for either, but I suspect that it would work well blended with other colors–but which ones and what the result would be are mysteries!
How do you find Aquarius in comparison with White Nights? I would like to switch, too. Thnak you.
I live in Greece and even though I love Jackson’s can no longer order from them because of Brexit complications. I would love to know if I can buy direct from Poland or if anyone sticks these in Greece. Thank you.
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